Cad and the Dandy is an independent tailoring company based in London, England with premises on Savile Row and in the City. It sells bespoke suits, manufactured from English and Italian fabrics, and using traditional tailoring methods, at a lower price than the traditional Savile Row houses. The company was founded in 2008 by James Sleater and Ian Meiers; two City of London bankers who, at the height of the 2008 financial crisis, were both made redundant from their jobs. It has attracted local, national and international press coverage, including being listed by The Guardian in the Courvoisier Future 500, and in July 2010 the founders won the Bento Entrepreneur of the Year Award at the Macworld Awards.
Cad and the Dandy was founded in 2008. The founders met through a supplier as both pursued a similar business idea independently, and they agreed to work together to start the company, each contributing £20,000 of initial capital. Both had family connections to the tailoring industry, giving them knowledge helpful in launching the new company.
After initially conducting fittings in rented office space, they came to an arrangement with Chittleborough & Morgan to allow appointments in their shop on Savile Row. In October 2009, the company opened its first permanent store in the City of London.
The company achieved a turnover of £1.3M in 2010, and was listed by The Guardian in the Courvoisier Future 500. In July 2010 the founders won the Bento Entrepreneur of the Year Award at the Macworld Awards and in July 2013 they opened permanent premises on Savile Row.
Based in London, where the company employs 10 tailors in three workshops, it also employs an additional 40 in a workshop in China where most of its entry-level, machine-sewn suits are made. All suits are made from British or Italian cloth, and are available either in "machine grade" or "hand stitched". Suit prices vary based on the cloth that is used as well as the amount of hand-stitching that is done on the suit. The fully hand-made suits require around 50 hours of stitching, include a basted fitting, and conform to all the specifications for a bespoke suit suggested by the Savile Row Bespoke Association. Prices are kept lower than the average for bespoke tailors by requiring payment up-front. This allows Cad and the Dandy to negotiate discounts of 30% to 40% with their suppliers.
Cad & the Dandy launched a new flagship store at 13 Savile Row in June 2013. The store is the first on the iconic tailoring street to hand-weave a cloth before making it up into a fully finished suit. Believing that Britain’s bespoke tailoring industry was facing a shortage of master tailors, the company established an apprenticeship programme in London, with young would-be tailors joining Cad & the Dandy’s 22 staff members at its three London locations, Savile Row, Birchin Lane and Canary Wharf.
Fittings are now conducted across the UK, Europe and the United States.
Cad and the Dandy: tailor made for our times
Cad and the Dandy owners explain how they are reinvigorating bespoke shoes and clothes.
By James Hurley 04 Aug 2013
Making shoes for the Fastest Milkman in the West is certainly a talking point, but it wasn’t quite what James Sleater and Ian Meiers had in mind when they bought Wildsmith. The boss of the luxury shoe business, John Wildsmith, had assured them that the 166-year-old brand had some famous former customers
But the young entrepreneurs didn’t recognise any of the first 10 names Wildsmith offered them. “Then he said Benny Hill,” says Sleater.
Luckily, further investigation revealed some more illustrious candidates. The company designed and made the world’s first ever slip-on loafer for King George VI, while its shoes have also been worn by the likes of Winston Churchill, John F Kennedy and Cary Grant.
That remarkable pedigree should give the shoemaker’s new owners considerable marketing clout to exploit.
It also points to an intriguing meeting of the old and new for Sleater and Meiers, two former bankers who set up a Savile Row tailoring company in 2008. Their plan was to eschew the old school stuffiness the Mayfair street is renowned for.
Their business, Cad and the Dandy, has reached annual sales of £2.5m by being cheaper “but also friendlier” than their more established neighbours.
“We have everyone from members of the Royal family to sports stars coming through the door but one of our best customers is a baggage handler at Heathrow. That’s what we love about the business. If we only served bankers, we’d only be doing navy and charcoal suits,” says Sleater.
While a bespoke Savile Row suit would normally cost more than £2,000, Cad and the Dandy sells them for around £1,300. It also offers a machine-made suit for £700, or a half way option for about £900, although the bespoke suits are by far the most popular.
“There are a lot of fantastic tailors but they charge fantastic prices to go with it. We wanted high-end tailoring at a competitive price.”
But making the business “approachable” has provided the real difference, Sleater says.
“People are scared of going into tailors. It’s stuffy, you’re looked up and down. We’re not about airs and graces and keeping a certain element out.”
Now the pair, along with Wildsmith director, Chay Cooper, are hoping to repeat the trick with the shoe business they’ve acquired for an undisclosed sum.
“Tailoring is back on the up with the likes of Downton Abbey. Shoemakers are 20 years behind where the tailors are now,” says Sleater. “We want to revolutionise a classic product with an incredible heritage and bring it to a wider audience.”
That means being careful about how they exploit the brand’s past. “We want to play on the heritage and say we made shoes for JFK, Churchill and David Niven and all these guys, but that’s just one asset. You have to look at the past, but you can’t be stuck in it.”
Sleater points to the first slip-on shoe to illustrate his point. “The first loafer was copied by everyone from Edward Green to Gucci. We don’t want to be in the melting pot of copying what other people are doing – it’s about producing something new and fresh [for others to follow].”
The shoes, which retail for around £400, will be sold at Cad and the Dandy’s three London outlets as well as in overseas stockists in the US, Japan and Korea.
Sleater and Meiers, aged 32 and 34 respectively, started their tailoring company after being made redundant from their City roles at the start of the financial crisis. They decided to join forces when they were introduced by a fabric supplier and discovered they had both been working on the same idea independently.
Wildsmith is their first acquisition, and they admit it’s a “difficult jump” for what remains a small business, but they insist it’s a “natural step”.
“It’s not the huge leap we made from banking to tailoring,” says Meiers.
“We’ve learnt so many lessons from Cad and the Dandy, we can apply them to Wildsmith and it’s given us a good basis to grow.”
They are determined to take things slowly with their new business, the sale of which entailed John Wildsmith relinquishing family control for the first time.
Manufacturing will take place in Northampton, with Cooper hand-finishing every pair of shoes. Sales should reach about £400,000 in its first year under the new management.
“We don’t want to grow too fast,” says Meiers. “You end up rushing the manufacturers and the quality of service drops.”
“We’re taking the less risky approach of doing all the nuts and bolts [of the acquisition] ourselves,” says Sleater. “We’re not shy of working long hours – we’re doing twice the hours we were as bankers.”
While Cad and the Dandy has kept costs down by doing some of its manufacturing in China, Sleater and Meiers are keen to complement Wildsmith’s “Made in Britain” credentials by eventually making all of its suits here, too. “Customers want quality, they want 'Made in England’, which is why we’re switching,” says Meiers.
“As soon as we can say we’re doing more in the UK, people will relish it,” says Sleater, “but it’s not the cheap option.”
The decline of British manufacturing means “there isn’t the talent” in the industry to meet the demand, so Cad and the Dandy is resorting to training apprentices.
“The risk is that next door comes in and nicks them, but you’ve got to do it – for the industry as a whole as much as ourselves,” says Meiers. “The whole industry needs to get behind it.”
They might have some hard work ahead, but neither has any regrets about leaving the City behind.
“Running a business is pretty full on,” says Meiers. “But most of London is sending one electronic number from one place to another. We’re making something tangible and we can control where our business goes. It’s exciting.”
Cad and the Dandy well suited to cutting it in the tailoring business
Keeping cash flow under control is what has underpinned former bankers James Sleater and Ian Meiers' fledgling tailoring business Cad and the Dandy.
The pair teamed up after being introduced by a fabric supplier. Both, having been made redundant, were independently researching their market with a view to starting their own companies tailoring suits. It wasn't such a major deviation.
"Ian's mother used to be a tailoress, making suits for the Queen, and I have been fortunate enough to, from the age of 16, have had most of my clothes made for me," says Mr Sleater.
Two years later their business, Cad and the Dandy - with one shop opposite the Bank of England and another in Savile Row (that it shares with Chittleborough & Morgan, which counts Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts among its customers) - has just seen its best day yet.
"We took 15 orders for top of the range bespoke suits," says Mr Sleater, 29. "That's not counting the orders for machine-stitched suits."
This year the pair are looking at clearing £1.3m in turnover, more than double last year's and helped in part by the return of the City bonus culture, admits Mr Sleater.
"We are growing quickly but in the last six months it has sort of exploded. We do fittings all over the world."
Cad and the Dandy - the name was chosen to make it appear unforgettable, says Mr Sleater - operates with a team of just three, plus a network of seven self-employed tailors in the UK and a further 32 in China turning out suits, both machine and hand-stitched, that range in price from £300 to more than £1,000. They take about six weeks to make.
"We have customers from every walk of life," says Mr Sleater, "from policemen and plumbers to bankers and barristers. We also make suits for a number of celebrities, including Chris Eubank."
The lower prices are down to its cheaper Chinese labour, the lack of an established brand heritage that lends itself to premium prices (and higher margins), and tight cost control.
They negotiated 20 per cent discounts on fabrics in return for upfront payments, and Cad and the Dandy asks customers to pay in full on order for suits of less than £1,000.
"We are high volume rather than high margin," says Mr Sleater.
Apart from the lower prices - a traditional Savile Row suit can cost many thousands of pounds - the point of difference between Cad and the Dandy and established tailors such a Geives and Hawkes - is in the way the business conducts itself, says Mr Sleater.
"We target those aged 25 to 45. So often when you go into one of the older tailors it's just a bit stuffy and intimidating. It can be a nerve-wracking experience.
"I don't particularly like walking in to them. They are also all creating similar products and at a similar price - they have no competitive edge."